Posted by Word Camel on October 19, 2004
In Reply to: Niggardly, part deux. posted by Gary on October 19, 2004
: : : : : : : : : : : : A friend from the UK just brought me a newspaper clipping that says "Bedlam", "nitpicking" and "brainstorm" among others) have been outlawed in in goverment work places because they might offend someone?
: : : : : : : : : : : Weird. Bedlam I can understand. But I don't see how nitpicking and brainstorm could offend anyone.
: : : : : : : : : : "Nitpicking" because it supposedly refers to the nits in the hair of slaves (a variation on th edubious nitty gritty theme), and "brainstorm" because it might offend mentally ill people.
: : : : : : : : : : All this would be terrible not least because it is necessary to have access to the term "bedlam" when dealing with the UK civil service.
: : : : : : : : : : I'm also wondering whether, if someone were seriously mentally ill, whether there might be many other words one would find offensive - like "door knob" or "egg whisk" or "mustache"?
: : : : : : : : : I'm deeply offended that you said do*r kn*b, and I may sue. But "brainstorm"? Perhaps they thought it was "bra in storm," meaning rained-upon undergarments. Eh? Potentially offensive?
: : : : : : : : Some fairly highly placed official was recently forced to resign for using the word "niggardly" in some speech he gave... God help us. The PC stormtroopers are at the gate.
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: : : : : : : Terry Pratchett portrayed T Blair as vampire...
: : : : : : Niggardly. It happened in the U.S., and I don't think anyone resigned. Some official in Philadelphia was commenting on the stinginess of the budget he was given, and two of his subordinates misunderstood the word "niggardly" to be racist. They were, of course, and I think they got some civil rights organization interested. But reporters soon disabused the complainers of their notions about "niggardly," and the publicity made the complainers look like idiots. You can find your way to the complete story by consulting Lexis-Nexus or the N.Y. Times Index. SS
: : : : : Holy-moley, I left out a whole clause. For "They were, of course,..." substitute "They were offended, of course, and called loudly for the official's resignation. I think they also got some civil rights organization interested." SS
: : : : You know, we've discussed the resignation over this word before. It's supposedly happened on both sides of the Atlantic. I'm wondering, even though I think it's completely possible that all the stories are true, if there's a chance this could be an urban legend? I went back to try to find the original reference here but can't find the source. The really depressing thing is that even if no one actually did have to resign over this, just the fact that these words have been banned is bad enough.
: : : : I really, truly don't understand how this became so mainstream in the UK. Is it Tony Blair throwing a bone to some of the more backward sections of the Labour Party? Anything I've ever seen published on this in the quality press is pretty much of the opinion that this is utterly stupid... I've never even seen anyone try to defend it - not in print anyway. It's like this thing has an independent life of its own. I'd love to know the back story of this one. I wonder if it's because no one wants to be seen to be elitist*?
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: : : : * By the way, if anyone has access to it, Saturday's Financial Times carried a *very* depressing article about the decline of Oxford University. It's a variation on the theme of slipping standards.
: : : There is a xenophobic section of the British press - almost of it actually, and certainly including the Financial Times, that is very happy to jump on any story showing up declining standards, political correctness and how this great nation is being submerged under a tide of petty laws dreamed up by EC bureaucrats in Brussels. This has now become an industry and people make 'the country is going to the dogs' careers out of it. They even have their own language and are variously known as 'young fogeys' or 'grumpy old men'. Every time some council official says something silly these days it becomes a Daily Mail headline.
: : : Take heart. They might report that...
: : : - Oxford University is now a pay in the slot degree vending booth.
: : : - UK citizens now have to eat straight bananas.
: : : - Children in the UK aren't allowed to play conkers.
: : : - UK government employees aren't allowed to say brainstorm.
: : : ... but it's all rubbish.
: : : Brainstorm, brainstrom, brainstorm. There I've gone and done it.
: : Thinking back, I think yoou are right that this section of the press does exist but I can't help but wonder if that's all thre is to it. I read an interesting article, by a friend, actually who talked about how his university and others have started devoting more resources to marketing themselves to prospective students than to finding and keeping good scholars or being choosy about who they let in. He's considered left wing - not really a grumpy old man type at all. Has nothing changed with the importance of the market in the university system? Just curious...
: Yes, much has changed. There's no real problem in my view though. The present UK government is pushing a much higher percentage of the poulation through higher education. All universities are seeing a considerable drop in the average academic standard of their students, as you would expect in that scenario. The elite universities are touchy about lowering standards because high standards is what they are all about.
American Ivy leagues aren't exactly meritocracies either. Yes, they have stellar academics but their undergraduate ranks are swollen with legacy admissions, lectures are obscenely large and students seldom have any access to the professors the universities are famous for. If my son were old enough for college (he's still in nappies/diapers), I'd far rather see him go to a smaller college with a good reputation where he'd be likely to get some personal attention than slog it out at Harvard. Harvard is always there for gradute studies and really, that's where those institutions come into their own.